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Justice Sotomayor to lead Times Square ball drop. Undignified?

Actually, Sonia Sotomayor is just following the trend of Supreme Court justices becoming celebrities. But the chance to share air time with Miley Cyrus on New Year's Eve is a first.

By Staff writer / December 30, 2013

US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor arrives at the US State Department for a gala dinner to honor the 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees in Washington earlier this month. Justice Sotomayor will take center stage in New York's Times Square Tuesday to usher in 2014 by pressing the button to lower the iconic countdown ball.

Mike Theiler/Reuters/File

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Yes, it’s true – Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will play a key role in the drop of the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square on Tuesday night. She’ll lead the ceremonial 60-second countdown and push the button which begins the ball’s final descent.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Organizers of the event noted that Justice Sotomayor will be the first high court judge to play such a role, which we would have thought went without saying. However, the choice here is apt in that Sotomayor is a Bronx native and evangelist for all things New York City, including its pace of life and the speed of its ordered-in food delivery.

She was chosen for the New Year’s Eve honor in part because of her inspirational story of rising from modest origins to become the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, said event organizers.

“Justice Sotomayor is an inspiration to many, and it is a privilege to welcome her to our celebration to ring in 2014,” said Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins. “Who better to join us in the Crossroads of the World than one of New York’s own?”

Given that Sotomayor was tapped for the court by President Obama in 2009, there’s been some grumbling on the right that her appearance is unseemly. The conservative news site Twitchy headlined their piece on this issue “Might Miley teach the justice to twerk?”

(Yes, Ms. Cyrus will perform on stage in Times Square in the 11 p.m. hour, according to the event schedule. She’ll be pretty far from Sotomayor, however, so it’s unlikely they’ll meet.)

However, we’ll note that in performing this public role, Sotomayor is following in the footsteps of conservative colleague Antonin Scalia, who has become something of celebrity jurist in his own right.

In 2005, Justice Scalia, the first Italian-American Supreme Court justice, served as grand marshal of New York’s Columbus Day Parade, an honor previously given to actress Sophia Loren, among others. Like other justices, he speaks often at law schools. But he’s also addressed incoming House Republicans, and he delights in publicly skewering what he believes to be misbegotten liberal dogmas.

Prior to Scalia’s appointment to the court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, Supreme Court justices for the most part eschewed publicity, wrote George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley in a lengthy 2011 piece on the subject. But to some extent he has pioneered a path of higher-profile speeches and public position-taking that some of his colleagues now follow.

“Scalia is the first real celebrity justice,” wrote Mr. Turley in The Washington Post.

He’s also the high court’s firearms instructor, apparently. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan grew up in New York City, like Sotomayor. Consequently, she had little to say when in making the rounds of the Senate prior to her confirmation vote lawmakers asked her if she had ever handled a gun.

She promised them she’d ask Scalia to take her hunting, and she did.

“He thought it was hilarious. He thought it was a total crackup,” she told the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this year. (Hmm, another public appearance by a justice here, we’ll just point out.)

Now Justice Kagan and Scalia hunt ducks two or three times a year. They’ve even been to Wyoming to shoot deer.

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